The Best College Scholarships for Parents

Pursuing higher education as a parent can be daunting and expensive. Here are scholarship programs designed to help lighten the load for parents who need a little help footing all the bills.

Mother studying in library with toddler daughter
Photo: Getty Images

It's hardly a secret that parenting can be a handful, particularly if you're doing it solo. Yet, despite the built-in workload that comes with child-rearing, many parents also choose to pursue higher education.

It's a wise move on many levels, as higher education can open many doors and lead to an increased salary over the course of a lifetime. For instance, according to the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU), bachelor's degree holders earn about $32,000 more annually than those whose highest degree is a high school diploma.

In addition, APLU notes the following benefits of a bachelor's degree:

  • Half as likely to be unemployed as those with a high school degree
  • Make $1 million in additional earnings on average over a lifetime
  • Experience poverty at 3.5 times lower rate than those with a high school degree
  • 47% more likely to have employer-sponsored health insurance
  • Higher life expectancy

All of that's well and good, but continuing education is getting more expensive by the day. And finding extra cash to cover the costs as a parent—especially as a single parent—can be challenging at best.

The good news is that some scholarships are available for this particular demographic. So it can pay off to spend some time researching and completing a few scholarships before footing that tuition bill on your own.

Numerous scholarships and grants are geared toward parents and single parents returning to school. "As forms of gift aid, they don't have to be repaid. And applicants can apply for and receive multiple rewards to reduce their education costs," says Kat Tretina, a certified student loan counselor specializing in helping people avoid student loans.

Read on for some of the most notable scholarships available for parents pursuing higher education.

Patsy Mink Foundation Education Support Award

The Patsy Mink Foundation Education Support Award was created to assist low-income women with children pursuing education or training.

"There are income restrictions, and recipients are based on financial need, personal circumstances, and occupational goals," explains Tretina.

Some of the requirements include:

  • Being at least 17 years of age
  • Having minor children
  • Pursuing a first degree at a post-secondary level of education

The scholarship provides $5,000 to recipients.

Women's Independence Scholarship Program

The Women's Independence Scholarship Program is designed to help women who identify as survivors of intimate partner abuse. Preference is given to applications from single women with young children with the greatest barriers to completing their education, including child care needs.

Requirements include:

  • Identifying as a female survivor of intimate partner violence
  • Living separately from the abuser for at least a year
  • Must have sought support from a non-profit that assists survivors of intimate partner violence for six months
  • Financial need

Recipients receive from $500 to $2,000 per semester or quarter for undergraduate studies. For master's degrees, the awards average $1,000 per semester or quarter. You do not need to attend school full-time for this award.

Educational Foundation for Women in Accounting (EFWA)

The EFWA offers scholarships for women pursuing undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral degrees in accounting. Preference is given to parents and those in need, says Robert Bendetti, an EFWA board member.

Requirements include:

  • Female pursuing an accounting degree
  • Financial need
  • Preparing for a career in accounting or finance

"The mission of the EFWA is to provide scholarships and mentoring, supporting equitable access to education and the advancement of women who are pursuing careers in accounting," says Bendetti.

The foundation offers different types of scholarships. For example, the Women in Transition scholarship is designated for a woman who is the primary source of support for her family and is enrolling as an incoming freshman to earn an undergraduate degree in accounting. The scholarship provides up to $16,000 over four years as determined by the EFWA board of trustees. It is renewed annually as long as the student earns at least a 3.0 GPA.

The Women in Need scholarship, meanwhile, is aimed at women who are the primary source of support for their families and are completing their sophomore year of academic pursuit to earn an undergraduate degree in accounting. This scholarship provides $2,000 annually for two years and is renewed for the second year upon completing satisfactory coursework, including a 3.0 GPA.

Jeannette Rankin Women's Scholarship Fund

Yet another option that may be appealing to parents is the Jeannette Rankin Women's Scholarship Fund, says Ayden Berkey, co-founder of Access Scholarships.

"This fund awards scholarships to low-income women pursuing an undergraduate education in the United States," says Berkey. "Applicants must be 35 years of age or older."

Applicants may identify as female or non-binary. In addition, applicants must be pursuing a technical or vocational education, an associate's degree, or a first bachelor's degree. The awards are renewable for up to five years and are given directly to the recipient.

Osher Reentry Scholarships

Osher Reentry Scholarships from The Bernard Osher Foundation offer financial support for students who have experienced a cumulative gap in their education of five or more years.

Requirements include:

  • A gap of five-plus years in their education
  • Undergraduate pursuing first bachelor's degree
  • Anticipate significant workforce participation post-graduation
  • Financial need

Berkey says these scholarships are available at many institutions of higher education around the country. Students apply for the scholarship through the college or university, not through the Osher Foundation.

Custody X Change Single Parent Scholarship

The Custody X Change Giving Fund annually awards three scholarships (ranging from $500 to $1,000) to single parents.

To be eligible, applicants must:

  • Be a full-time student
  • Attend an accredited two- or four-year college or university
  • Have a 3.0 GPA or higher

The application process also involves submitting a 400- to 500-word essay about "How you will use your education to improve your family."

Ford Opportunity Scholars Program

The Ford Opportunity Scholars Program was established by Hallie Ford, who happens to be a founder of the prestigious Ford Family Foundation. This scholarship was specifically created to help single parents obtain a college degree.

Over the years, the criteria have expanded to include all parents of any age. However, single parents are still strongly encouraged to apply. Nearly 100 scholarships are awarded each year, and the award covers 90% of unmet college costs.

Eligibility requirements include:

  • Being a parent of any age or an adult over 25
  • Seeking associate or bachelor's degree
  • Having at least one year remaining in their program
  • Enrolled full time

However, there are geographic limitations to the scholarship. It is only open to residents of Oregon and Siskiyou County, California.

The ANSWER Scholarship

The ANSWER Scholarship is designed to help women raising school-age children fulfill their dream of earning a college degree.

Applicants must be:

  • The primary caregiver to at least one school-age child (pre-kindergarten through 12th grade)
  • A non-traditional female student older than 25
  • A full-time student
  • Willing to participate in a mentorship program
  • Maintain a GPA of 2.5 or better

The children of applicants can be biological, adopted, or even children for whom legal guardianship has been granted. In addition, applicants may be married or single.

Arkansas Single Parent Scholarship Fund

The Arkansas Single Parent Scholarship Fund was established to offer life-changing opportunities for single parents and break the cycle of poverty. It is open to those who live in Arkansas or Bowie County, Texas.

To qualify, applicants must:

  • Not have previously earned an undergraduate degree
  • Maintain a GPA of at least 2.0
  • Be single
  • Be a custodial parent with at least one dependent child
  • Demonstrate financial need

These scholarships are uniquely tailored to single parents in that they allow the money to be used at the recipient's discretion—whether that's for child care, gas, car repairs, rent, or utilities.

Little Bundle Supermom Scholarship

According to Little Bundle, more than 11% of undergraduate students in the U.S. are single mothers. Looked at another way, that's more than 2.1 million students. Sadly, a mere 8% complete their degrees. And when they do manage to complete their education, they leave school with nearly $30,000 in debt.

Eligibility requirements for the scholarship include:

  • Graduating high school senior or college student
  • Enrolled in an undergrad, graduate, vocational, or technical program
  • Must be a single mom, the child of a single mom, or have had your life impacted positively by a single mom

This scholarship awards $1,000–2,000 and a $1,000 gift certificate for Little Bundle organic baby formula. Those who are not parents can defer the gift certificate until later or donate it. The awards are granted every six months.

Soroptimist Live Your Dream Awards

The Soroptimist Live Your Dream Award offers up to $16,000 for women who provide the primary financial support for their families. They give out more than $2.8 million in education awards each year to about 1,700 women globally, says Kevin Harrington, CEO of Joblist, a platform that makes it easier for people to find jobs and increases access to education.

The application requires references and a personal statement and is open to women who provide primary financial support to themselves and their dependents. Dependents can include children, a spouse, a partner, siblings, or even parents.

The scholarship is open to:

  • Women who provide primary financial support for their families
  • Those with a financial need
  • Those enrolled in vocational or skills training or an undergraduate program
  • Those who do not have a graduate degree

"Awards can be used to offset tuition costs, in addition to books, child care, and other expenses," says Harrington. In addition, this award is open to people in the U.S., plus some other countries, including Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Ecuador, Guam, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Northern Mariana Islands, Palau, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Taiwan, and Venezuela.

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